MAINE TIMES, Volume 29, Number 9, Portland, January 2-8, 1997.
It's a puzzling phenomenon: despite a broad consensus among medical practitioners that circumcision is an unnecessary and probably undesirable procedure, its incidence in Maine, far from disappearing, is actually increasing. Even more puzzling: The rise is not occurring in what we often think of as the "culturally conservative" areas of Northern Maine, where it remains below 50 percent of newborns - but in the urban centers, with one of the steepest rises occurring at the state's largest hospital, Maine Medical Center in Portland.
Something doesn't add up here. Almost all the family practitioners interviewed by Maine Times condemned the non-religious practice of infant circumcision, and few obstetricians defended it, except as a personal choice.
Except that the person involved isn't making that choice. Instead, parents, apparently led by fathers who want their sons to look like them, are insisting on a surgery which has no demonstrated medical value and clearly imposes pain on the newborn and possible negative consequences afterwards. Bluntly put, this is narcissism at its worst.
Doctors say they are neutral on the subject, but circumcision's rising rate in Maine, even as it is falling nationally, suggests they are doing little to inform patients about circumcision. They should do so, well in advance of the actual birth. Another change that might help: Medicaid should stop paying for the procedure; few private insurers do, classifying it, appropriately, as optional cosmetic surgery. No, it doesn't cost a lot, but Medicaid desperately needs funding for better preventative and pre-natal care. Every little bit helps, particularly if it comes from de-funding a procedure without measurable medical benefits.
Perhaps everyone would benefit from more straightforward, unembarrassed talk about circumcision. Americans can be awfully squeamish about anything to do with sex, however tangentially - and thus remain ignorant. Men who desire circumcision can choose it themselves; imposing it on newborns is dubious at best.
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